Movie Review: Incident at Blood Pass

Posted: January 11, 2011 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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Incident at Blood Pass (1970/Toho/Dir. Hiroshi Inagaki)

Hey look, another Sanjuro movie that doesn’t actually have Sanjuro in it. Okay, I’ll make the history lesson quick to explain that statement. First things first though, this movie is actually titled “Ambush” and was changed to “Incident at Blood Pass” somewhere along the line. Now back to the history lesson that you don’t really care about. After Yojimbo, Toshirō Mifune spent more than a few years playing more or less that character in several movies. It wasn’t so much that he was being Sanjuro, as much as he had made that a stock style of character. A stock style that still exists to this day, and is portrayed by many an actor. This would basically be like Sean Connery playing a well dressed, suave spy after he ended his run on James Bond. So yeah, it’s a samurai movie where Mifune plays a strong, mysterious tough guy type.

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Japanese newspapers were a lot more minimalistic back in the day.

So our movie starts with… what do we call him? That’s always a problem with these movies, they rely heavily on the Man With No Name aesthetic. The internet only calls him The Yojimbo, which bugs the hell out of me. Why not call him The Body Guard? If you’re going to put and English word in front of the Japanese one, why not just translate it? I know I’m being a bit of a pain, but I’ve never understood why people who write about Japanese things insist on always putting every noun in Japanese if they know the word for it. Even if it’s just things like “cup” and “pillow” they’ll still say “kappu” and “makura” as if anyone thinks this is clever. What it actually happens to be, is extremely annoying. It’s one thing to say ronin, because that’s easier than saying “masterless samurai” all the time, but it’s another to continually say “tanto” no matter what kind of “knife” is being discussed. Bunch of bakas. All that said, I’m going to call him Not-Sanjuro, because he isn’t Sanjuro in this. By the way, if you had any questions about when this movie was made, the opening credits will tell you. This is SOOO an early 70s score.

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You know I had to give up the guitar when I hurt my elbow! The band was really going places.

Where was I? Oh, right, the start of the movie. Our hero, Not-Sanjuro, is sent to a town to wait for a message. If he gets one note he goes one way, if he gets a different not he goes in another direction. I’m not sure why we go through that rigmarole exactly, because he gets the note telling him his direction right after the opening credits end. He heads off to a little back road area. After that, we leave him waiting at a particular spot and follow seven other characters for what feels like an hour but probably isn’t more than ten minutes. In that time we get to know everyone, learning as much back story as we’re likely to get. We’ve got a samurai, a former doctor, a police officer, a robber he’s been chasing, an old man who runs the inn, his granddaughter and a girl Not-Sanjuro found and dropped off there.

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All it needs is some synth and it could be an 80s video.

In an interesting turn, the first action scene is a fist fight between Not-Sanjuro and another samurai over and insult to one of the girls in the hotel where most the movie’s story takes place. It’s not a major scene, being more of an average world punch-up rather than some expert fighting. However, it’s a pretty good fight, and makes for a moment of relief from the mild tedium of people talking. People sit around talking a lot, mostly without actually saying much. Sadly, if you’re expecting a Yojimbo style action movie, you’re going to be disappointed. That isn’t to say this movie is boring, but this isn’t the action film I was expecting from the blurbs I’d read. Instead, this seems to be a study of several characters, each of whom is covering up something from the others.

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C’mon guys! Put your backs into it!

While it’s clear the makers of this movie understood the character of Sanjuro, they’ve not really tried to recreate the original movies. Rather this is a character very similar placed in a completely different circumstance. The oddness is, as I said, most of this movie seems to revolve more around the occupants of the inn than Not-Sanjuro. It sort reminds me of The Petrified Forest, but not in any specific aspect. It’s the group in the inn talking about “things” that’s doing it for me, but I’m going to go ahead and guess independent developments. However, as Sanjuro is sort of inspired by The Continental Op in the first place, it’s interesting to note that the character is never far from his hardboiled roots.

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The famous walk away shot.

The movie actually has one of those classic Film Noir endings that leave you feeling sort of blah. It’s not a downer, not exactly, but you do sort of feel that half the characters were given a really raw deal. It’s that sort of odd ground for Samurai movies, when the makers were trying to see if they couldn’t do something new and interesting with the genre. Partially that meant deconstruction, partly that meant navel gazing, partly it meant movies like this. It’s not a bad movie, not by far, but it wasn’t what I had been expecting and I think that’s colored by views a little. I think it was also a bit simplistic for all the extra characters and drama that they slotted into the story. It would have been a bit tighter, or a bit more expansive, but as it stands it’s just right to be wrong.

Official Score:
15 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.
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